Toward Understanding Homelessness: The 2007 National Symposium on Homelessness Research. People Who Experience Long-Term Homelessness: Characteristics and Interventions. The Characteristics and Needs of People Who Are at High Risk of Chronic Homelessness


New research efforts should distinguish prevention efforts geared toward people with mental illness or other disabilities who are at risk of homelessness or who are newly homeless from efforts addressed to those who are already homeless or who have experienced long-stays in street or shelter locations. Efforts intended for the latter will be most meaningful if they employ a consistent definition of chronic homelessness, such as the one recently adopted by the federal government for its interagency policy and program initiatives discussed previously in this report.

The overrepresentation of minorities, particularly African American men, among the ranks of people who are chronically homeless requires greater understanding to inform the development of appropriate, culturally competent, and effective housing and treatment approaches targeted for this group.

The high prevalence of childhood out-of-home placement among single homeless women, coupled with their greater exposure to victimization and violence, both in their childhood family histories and in adulthood, suggests a need for research to document and evaluate the effectiveness of gender-specific interventions to ending and preventing homelessness for adult women. Recognizing that many single homeless women are mothers who have become separated from their children, research can guide the development of programs that preserve and reunify families.

More research is needed to better understand the dynamics and trends that are reflected in the increasing age of homeless single adults, and the factors that are influencing this trend. Additional research can help explain whether this pattern primarily reflects an aging cohort of adults who have been homeless for many years, or whether older adults are now at greater risk of becoming homeless for the first time, and remaining homeless for extended periods. A closer examination of this population could help identify risk and protective factors associated with homelessness among older adults and factors that may have influenced changes in this pattern over the past two decades.

A greater understanding of the impact of homelessness over the life course is needed to inform housing and service approaches specific to age groups, such as young adults with recent-onset severe mental illness and elderly people. As the population of people who end up chronically homeless is aging, more research is needed to better understand their health conditions and the costs and efficacy of health care and treatment approaches for this population.

More information is needed to examine the characteristics and needs of people who experience extended or repeated episodes of homelessness but who are not considered to be chronically homeless because they do not have identified disabilities.

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